This may be the most quintessential expat emotion.
It’s the simultaneous desire to go and to stay. It’s loneliness wrapped in joy, blanketed in longing, softened by comfort.
Going somewhere can be so sweet - the new adventure, the new friends, the new food and culture. But staying is so sweet too – all those nooks and crannies you’ve come to love, your friends, the strange things that are now familiar. It’s nice to make a home some place.
And going somewhere is sadness too. Saying goodbye to what’s behind is sad. Saying hello to something new – being the stranger, the language-mangler, the wrong-way-doer – is sad sometimes too.
And what’s to be done about it?
Perhaps the only thing is to feel it. Really feel it. Cry and smile at the same time. Admit that this up and down is both good and bad. Know that the coming and the going both matter. Recognize that you are the person you were and the person you’re going to be. You’re both people…even right now. That’s sweet sadness.
Sometimes we’ll say, “This life is so awesome! I’ll do this forever!”
Sometimes we’ll say, “It’s just too much. I am alone. I can’t do this forever!”
But maybe most of the time we say both. It’s okay. Let’s just admit it’s complicated.
Today I had sweetness in a café lunch overlooking the quiet bustle of a Japanese shopping street with my beautiful three-year-old daughter who says smart and funny things and is right before my eyes becoming my very best friend in the world.
And in her I see my mother’s dimples. And then there’s the sadness. I am here in this new and sparkling world of an often-mysterious culture and an unforgiving language that is the backdrop of cute things made of paper and incense and she, my mother, is back there newly widowed, returned briefly to her hometown to care for my grandparents as they enter what is likely the final months of their lives. And maybe part of me knows that part of me should be there. Sadness.
And the two things are mirrored – mother and daughter and daughter and mother. And it is sweet to be here. And it is sadness not to be there. Those things are both happening. There’s no other way to look at it. It is sweet. It is sadness. Sweet sadness.
So I say – I’ll have both – the sweet and the sad. Because in the end, I think, it must be so much deeper and bigger and fuller than simply having it all just one way.